Accessible taxi services in city still lagging

By Luis González

Earlier this year, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan visited Ottawa and missed an appointment when he couldn’t get an accessible cab.

His protest caused city council to promise a significant improvement to the city’s accessible taxi service.

Ottawa said that by the end of the year there would be 40 additional cabs to accommodate those with disabilities.

Although there are more accessible cabs on the streets, city spokeswoman Linda Anderson says there have been delays due to a lag in training and securing the proper vehicles. She hopes all 40 will be operating by Christmas.

Anderson also says there will be an additional 40 cabs coming next October, along with the integration of a GPS chip system next spring, which will improve service efficiency.

“If [the accessible cabs] get to pick up one or two fares per day, then the service will be effective.”

Catherine Gardner, a disabled member of the community group Eye on Ottawa, says some riders have complained about missed appointments and a lack of safety reinforcements.

Accessible cabs are equipped with extra safety belts, but Gardner says customers are not always aware or informed about them.

“There are situations in which [the passengers] rely on their wheelchair belt, but it won’t work in an accident.”

Gardner herself doesn’t use cabs, saying they are a waste of time.

“I know a gentleman who uses a walker, so every time he calls for an accessible cab, the dispatcher would refuse to send one because he doesn’t use a wheelchair. When he is lucky enough, they would send a regular cab, but since his walker doesn’t fit into the vehicle, then he has to wait for an accessible taxi.”

Time-related issues must be reported if customers want to see change, says Capital Taxi general manager, Marc André Way.

“If they don’t get to the customer or even if they’re late, they could be reported and suspended.”

He added that once the GPS system is in place, they will be able to better identify those drivers who are not acting responsibly.

However, accessible taxi drivers say they struggle to make their vehicles profitable, in part due to competition with OC Para Transpo.

“The Para Transpo is making lots of money, but from the money each bus generates the city can pay all of its services, even the driver’s salary and insurance. With an accessible taxi cab it is different. A poor driver can’t make a living out of it. He has to pay for the taxi, it’s insurance. That is not fair,” says Parmud, a BlueLine driver.

“Accessible taxis customers often cancel their requests when the driver is almost there [to pick them up]. They are in disadvantage because then drivers have to pay for that canceled trip,” says Yusef Al Mezel, president of Canadian Auto Workers Union Local 188.

Hanif Patni, BlueLine Taxi president, wishes the city would co-ordinate a strategy along with taxi companies in order to distribute work more fairly.

“We can do [trips] much cheaper than the [OC Para Transpo], so we hope the city recognizes this effort, because it is a win-win situation. Where the city saves, the customer gets a better service, and there is more work for everybody,” he says.

“People have the right to have access to an accessible taxi.”